Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dining in Cairns

Dining ala carte, alfresco dining, take-away, cafe, etc. are aplenty here in Cairns, especially along the esplanade between Aplin Street and Shields Street. In fact, you can find them all over Cairns but only here would you find them opened during public holidays. Almost all were offering Western fare, and at the esplanade, Asian style cuisine can be found only at the Night Market.

Here also, these dining premises opened early, some even before 7:00 a.m. and closed late at night. During my short stay in Cairns, I came here most of the time for my food.

I am really not adventurous with food. Though I like eating, I am more comfortable ordering and eating in familiar environment. Eating out at new dining establishments, ordering unfamiliar food or trying out unfamiliar cuisine happened mainly with friends. One major reason was because of that uncomfortable feeling of being watched and laughed at when you do not know how to order or eat your food, especially with Western cuisine. Do the Australians use a fork and knife when eating a big burger?!

I felt awkward as I held it in my hand and munched through it, instead of the fork and knife. Was I eating it the right way? The cost was AUD14.85 (beef burger = AUD8.90; fresh orange juice = AUD4.00; add 15% Easter holiday surcharge).

Was it good? Nay! Nothing special! This was my first time taking a meal, or rather brunch in Australia. It happened at a stall at Cairns Night Market at 10:08 a.m. on 2nd April 2010.

I did not take lunch that day. Apart from the reason of a late breakfast, the real reason was the expensive food here in Cairns. The brunch, converted into Malaysian Ringgit was approximately MYR45. You could have a feast with that money in Malaysia.

That evening, at about 4:30 p.m., I started to feel hungry. As is typical of Malaysian and Singaporean, the kiasu personality took over. It was back to the night market, this time for Asian food. Buy the plate size that you want, and fill her up with food until it could no longer hold any more food. Maximum satisfaction at minimum cost! That's the kiasu attitude. So, at Hot Wok, I had my fill.

Again, the taste was way below my expectation. The fried chicken coating was hard and not crispy. Overall, two out of five stars.

On 3rd April, 2010, I went to the Great Barrier Reef. A light breakfast was included in the package. It consisted of instant coffee that I made myself and two pieces of Danish pastry. The Danish pastry was quite good. No pictures here because I was too shy to take out my camera in front of strangers sitting right across me.

Lunch was Western fare. Cold and unpalatable! Overall, I gave it one star out of five.

Again, dinner was at the Night Market. Since food at Hot Wok did not satisfy my taste bud, I decided to try food from another stall. This time, it was Little Asian Delights. Again, I paid for the medium-sized plate for AUD12.50 and fill her up to the brim.

This time, I could not finish my plate of food. My stomach was full. The food was slightly better, at least as far as the fried chicken was concerned.

After downing the greasy food, I was craving for some cold drink, but decided on ice-cream. There were two stalls selling ice-cream, both along Aplin Street. On the way back to my lodging, I decided to buy a medium-sized cone of ice-cream. The cost was AUD4.80, and I was allowed to combine two flavours.

On 4th April 2010, my last full day in Cairns, I decided to have a breakfast of kebab. There were two stalls selling kebab rolls along the esplanade, one manned by a man who looked like he was from the Indian sub-continent, and another manned by a white woman. I have been eyeing the stalls for the last two days, and as I mentioned earlier, the feeling of awkwardness ordering unfamiliar food hindered me from buying it earlier. Anyway, early that morning, when there were not many people around who would be watching my every move ordering the kebab, I stopped at the stall manned by the white woman.

I told her I wanted a kebab roll of mixed meat, and asked her how she would prepare it (stupid question, on hindsight). She answered me, but it was not the answer I was hoping to get. However, I did not pursue with the question so as not to look stupid. She went about preparing the roll and asked me the sauce that I wanted, etc. Finally, after heating the kebab roll in the oven, it was in my hand. It cost me AUD13.50 (if I remember it correctly).

It has a sourish taste, most likely from the tomato and sauces. Those who like food with a sourish tinge might find it good, but not me. I would give it two stars out of five.

My philosophy on eating authentic food is to find it at its place of origin. For example, eating authentic and the best Sarawak Laksa in Kuching, Kampua in Sibu, Tom Yam in Thailand, Pho in Vietnam, etc. When I saw Lan's Vietnamese Cuisine up at Kuranda Village, it aroused my curiosity. Since almost all the eateries offered western food, I decided to take a look at the menu.

It looked like Malaysian favourite food and Thai Tom Yam had been hijacked as Vietnamese cuisine. Shameless business people! Are these Asian food prepared and cook in authentic manners? I did not know. Anyway, I decided to try Saigon Pho for my late lunch because it was the only Vietnamese sounding food available. Maybe readers can tell me whether the food looked authentic or not.

That evening, I had my last meal at yet another Asian food stall at the Night Market. After the previous evening experience of being unable to finish my plate of food, I took the smallest plate this time, for 10 dollars.

During my three nights of dining experience at these Asian stalls at Cairns Night Market, I made a few interesting observations.

Only Asians did what I did. There was a couple, likely to be Malaysians, who both took and fill to the brim their extra large or jumbo-sized plates. Imagine the quantity of food they took. I was finishing mine when they sat down at the table beside mine, and it would have been interesting to see whether they could actually finish their food and what they did with the leftover food.

There was also a family with one child, who filled a jumbo-sized plate to the brim with food. Then again, I saw them with one plate only, presumably to be shared by the three of them. How smart!

On the other hand, most whites took normal quantity of food, unlike the kiasu Asians. This was presumably because they did not think of the food as being too pricey, and had paid fair value for the normal amount of food. For Asian like Malaysian who took the normal amount of food, it would be like paying about MYR30 for what would be worth less than MYR10, or about AUD3.50. As such, they tend to take more to compensate for the relatively high price by Asian standard. It was just a natural reaction to get more for paying more.

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